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Tuesday, 19 March 1985
Page: 405

Senator WATSON(4.27) —I would like to raise the issue of counsellors. There has been a lot of debate on the question of the fee for the service. Very little has been mentioned about the service which is rendered. I was wondering whether the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans), representing the Attorney-General in this chamber, could outline the information and services required of the civil marriage celebrant. An instance recently drawn to my attention involved a couple of alcoholics. They came to a celebrant in an inebriated state. The celebrant felt he had no obligation to provide any counselling service. He was warned of the consequences. He ignored them and said that his only duty was to perform the ceremony according to the time required. Within three weeks the marriage was finished. Could the Minister outline the responsibilities of marriage celebrants?

The other issue I would like to raise concerns reproductive technology, a matter which the Minister did not refer to in his summing-up of the second reading debate. I would like to preface three questions with a few remarks. Existing family and child welfare legislation in Australia is based on the paramountcy of the welfare and interests of the child and must provide for and protect the special needs, interests and rights of children. I mention this in the context of the legitimacy provisions of the Marriage Amendment Bill before this chamber. At present children who are born of reproductive technology are not protected by adequate legislation. Safeguards and national standards must be developed to promote their welfare. For example, the question 'Who is the father?' and 'Who is the mother?', must be answered in order to clarify the persons or parents in whom parental legal rights and responsibilities must be vested for the care and upbringing of the child.

The Minister well knows that adoption legislation gives parental responsibilities to the social parents, but individual State laws cloud the issue for children who are born of reproductive technology. I will give two examples, one in Victoria and the other in New South Wales. The Victorian Status of Children Amendment Act stipulates that the woman who gives birth to a child conceived using donor ova is the lawful mother. However, there is a difference in New South Wales. The Act there stipulates that maternity is established using blood or genetic tests. This, of course, establishes that the lawful mother is in fact the person who donated the ovum. Thus there needs to be national legislation to establish filial and parental status. In addition, there has to be national legislation to regulate all aspects of reproductive technology, recognising that over 1,000 children each year are born through artificial insemination by donor, yet this practice is not regulated by some States. Some States concentrate purely on the regulation of in vitro fertilisation.

I would like further to suggest that there should be a national body with the power to monitor and control research into reproductive technology and advise Federal, State and Territory governments on research into and practice of reproductive technology. Several questions emerge because I think our legislation gives certain legitimacy to certain practices which have been developed by the States without adequate safeguards for the future rights of the child. The first question is: What steps does the Government propose to take to protect the special needs, interests and rights of children born throughout Australia through reproductive technology? Second, does the Government propose to introduce federal legislation to ensure that the status of children and families involved in reproductive technology is the same throughout Australia? I have already instanced cases where there are vast differences in the two principal States, whereas other States do not bother to legislate at all.

Senator Gareth Evans —Mr Temporary Chairman, I take a point of order. I have been listening with a great deal of interest to what Senator Watson has to say but I really think it would have been more appropriate for these sorts of remarks to have been made in the context of the second reading debate.

Senator WATSON —They were made.

Senator Gareth Evans —If they were made, it makes it that much less justifiable to burden us with them again now if the honourable senator is not addressing his remarks to any particular part of the Bill.

Senator WATSON —The remarks were made within the parameters of a speech at the second reading stage. I regret that the Minister was not present at that time and did not respond to the remarks because I think they have far-reaching effects on details within this Bill which concern the legitimacy of children. That is covered in the Bill. The Bill refers to these particular techniques. In my speech in the second reading debate I drew attention to the defects in some of the State legislation. I am using this Committee stage debate to ask the Minister a number of questions about the Government's intentions. My third question is: What is the Government's attitude to the establishment of a national-

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Sibraa) —Order! Senator Watson, a point of order has been taken. I have been listening to your speech. A lot of your remarks really are better suited to a second reading debate. I ask you to relate what you are saying to the particular clauses of the Bill.

Senator WATSON —I am referring to the legitimacy clause. My third question is: What is the Government's attitude to the establishment of a national, multi-disciplinary body which could deal with matters relating to reproductive technology, including artificial insemination by a donor, artificial insemination by a husband, in vitro fertilisation, embryo transfer, surrogate motherhood and embryo freezing?